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Milano-Torino told in 5 dates: Costante Girardengo and his long solo breakaway in 1923

05/08/2021

After the first pioneering years, during which it was discontinued multiple times, Milano-Torino became a permanent event in 1913. Shortly afterwards, Costante Girardengo – the first “Campionissimo” of Italian cycling – became its king.

Hailing from Novi Ligure and small in stature (hence his nickname, ‘l’omino di Novi’, which translates as ‘the little man from Novi’), he won five editions of the race, in 1914, 1915, 1919, 1920 and 1923.

In 1914, at a very young age, he outsprinted Giuseppe Azzini and Carlo Durando, after racing for 253 kilometres under the rain, at an average speed of 26 km/h.

The following year, he left Maino and headed to Bianchi, at the request of Erminio Cavedini, the team manager, who was crazy about him. On 25 April 1915, five men were jostling for the decisive sprint. Girardengo succeeded, again, ahead of Roncon, Bordin, Corlaita and Aimo.

In 1919 and in 1920, he nailed two other sprint victories.

By then, “Gira” was already the most successful rider in the history of this race, but that was still not enough for him. In the end, all the greatest champions share the same indomitable will to win – at any time, and on any type of terrain. So he saved his greatest achievement for his last victory, on April 15, 1923.

Another opponent had taken it to the start line that year: Giovanni Brunero, a former cyclist ‘Bersagliere’ (rifleman) during World War I, a solid rouleur with powerful climbing skills.

Brunero pulled away along the ascent to Mosso, followed by Aimo and Girardengo. Belloni and Trentarossi were dropped at first, but eventually managed to catch up with the leading trio.

In Ivrea, Girardengo stepped up the pace to stay ahead of the game. When he turned back to check things out, Aimo and Brunero were still on his wheel, but not for long.

As the race approached Castellamonte, Aimo gave in, and Brunero ran out of luck as one of his pedals broke down.

That’s when the ‘little man from Novi’ ended up alone at the front. The velodrome in Turin was still 70 kilometres away, but Girardengo did not lose hope, quite the contrary! Stacking up the miles and dropping his opponents, he reached the finish line 7’30” ahead of Belloni, Brunero and Aimo.

That was the last time Girardengo won the race, and possibly his most beautiful victory as well.

It certainly was the one that made him the most successful rider in the history of Milano-Torino.

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